How the light gets in…

There is so much to see and enjoy in the garden at this time of year, but ultimately it’s all about the light.

After a far too hectic working week, kicking back and enjoying the light dappled through the Acer, now more or less in full summer livery, with the curling fronds of the ferns, the scent of the white Rhododendron, the blackbirds singing..

A true moment of inner peace.

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Syringa

22nd May 2023

I’ve always liked the lilac family. Firstly for nostalgia as it’s one of the plants I remember from childhood, and  then one of the first houses I lived in as an adult had a huge and beautiful lilac in the back garden. It seemed almost immune to the suckers that generally proliferate from the lilac family.

When we moved to this house, we knew about these two tall lilacs in the front hedge..

Tall white lilac, the flowers are still lovely but the leaves are now rather sparse. It may be time to replace.
Classic lilac colour and pretty double flowers.

We were also rather surprised to discover that this slightly nondescript shrub turned out to be a beautiful pink syringa. It has small but definitely lilac shaped leaves and is smothered in pink blossom at this time of year. Unlike other syringa it lasts for weeks and the flowers will continue intermittently all the way through summer.

With the help of the awesome plantnet app, I’ve identified it as Syringa Pubescens – it has downy leaves hence the Pubescens signifier.

I really like the small leaves on the pubescens lilac, as well as the small flowers which start to appear very early in the year during mild spells. But this is definitely my favourite time. It has the classic lilac scent and also has a tendency to sucker like the common lilac, syringa vulgaris, so it needs keeping under control with an occasional prune. But really worthwhile in the garden.

Finally, we added a lilac in a pot a few years ago.

We initially thought this was the same as the pubescens lilac but it turns out to be the much rather (indeed endangered in the wild), Hungarian lilac.

There are multiple other varieties in the neighbourhood, I think my favourites are the very dark purples but I have a weakness for white too. If we do end up planting a new one, I think it will be one of these.

Finally, I recently learned a trick about how to keep lilac looking lovely for at least a few days as a cut flower as it normally withers very quickly off the tree.

So, firstly, cut in the early morning and choose flowers that are mostly already out. Soak in a fresh bucket of water for at least an hour after cutting. Remove all leaves and cut the end off the stem and then cut it vertically along the stem for 3 to 5cm. You can remove a small end of the stem every day if necessary. They should last at least 3 days and maybe even 5 with this treatment.

UPDATE: spotted this cultivar, “sensation” in the neighbourhood, and it’s indeed well named..

I’m now trying to work out where on earth I can put one…

Syringa Vulgaris Sensation

Nearing the peak: 18th May

Our back garden has a very well developed Rhododendron and azalea them. The structure was put in by the previous owners but since then we’ve added quite a few ourselves. That means that May is a month where the back part of the garden reaches peak loveliness.*

So today a guide to the currently flowering Rhodies.

Let’s start with a couple of my favourites, and they’re favourites because of their scent as well as colour.

This luteum is now out in full. And has a lily like fragrance

Orange Rhododendron luteum variety

The bright orange contrasts beautifully with the “Astrid” variety next to it, which isn’t scented but has a gorgeous lush colour.

Astrid is the dark red colour next to the orange – I’m not sure what this variety is called
This blue variety, ramopo, also has blue tinted leaves, the flowers aren’t scented but the leaves and wood have an astringent herbal scent when rubbed. It’s very refreshing and makes.mw wonde if it would repel insects.

Then we have the favourite I’ve mentioned before. Our wonderful polar bear Rhododendron – the fragrance is wonderful, but look as the silky billowing white flowers that open from pink buds. It’s a good 3m high and laden this year. Fantastic..

Rhododendron polar bear.

It’s neighbour, also a luteum has only one flower this year and I fear it will need to be replaced, but again a beautiful lily scent and I love the delicate petals.

A smaller orange luteum flower over beautiful bright green leaves

We have many Cunningham’s white in the garden. They are sometimes dismissed as EasyDendrons and you can (and should!) trim them like a hedge, they always spring back and are super reliable. I sometimes think they’re a little boring, but look at those delicate markings on the flower! And the dark green foliage really shows the contrast well. There’s a reason they’re popular.

A streak of Cunningham’s white flowers across a well pruned shrub.

Also white flowered and unscented is this wild form Rhododendron which has very attractive pink buds that open to white cup shaped flowers. The leaves are furry on the underside too. Also a favourite and not very commonly seen.

Furry leaf, pink buds, white cups shaped flowers. Check.

Helen Moser is another pretty common variety that is also at its peak now. As the flowers age they get very attractive markings inside developing. I assume some kind of landing strip for bees?

Helen Moser

We have several other pink azaleas but I don’t know what varieties they are. This one has very small leaves and builds a low shrub (1.5m high max) with an attractive structure too. No no

These are a deciduous azalea, we have a couple of them, just starting to open

The small leaves on this königstein are also very attractive and now it’s covered in beautiful star shaped purple pink flowers.

Königstein azalea.
I also love the star shaped purple flowers on this one. It’s another standard variety that is pretty commonly seen. I think it’s the Rhododendron catawbiense species and is very tough.
This is a low growing variety in a darker corner which looks luminous at this time of year, I think it is called Connie

We have a number of very low – less than half a metre high Rhodies that are not really my favourites- I think they’re too low and don’t really add structure, but they’re smothered in flowers at this time of year:

I like this coral pink colour

The reds rather clash with the rest of the cool pinks and purples but they’re undeniably bold

Low growing red Azalea

This cool yellow was an enormous mound and got cut back hard a few years ago. It’s recovered very well (unlike some of our others), but the flowers are now starting to fade. This is an earlier flowering azalea.

The yellow flowers work well with both the red and the pink nearby.

There are several more coming into flower soon, and several that have ended. May is a fantastic month, but there’s so much to see and appreciate it can be a bit overwhelming.

Tomorrow I will cover the lilacs, also getting close to their peak!

*kinda. I think there’s always something beautiful to look at here and that’s sort of the point of this year’s attempt to write a diary.

Schöne blaue donau

One of the problems with taking photos of plants is getting the colours right.

This is especially the case with a mobile phone. This blog is supposed to be minimal effort, which means no SLR, no uploads and downloads, no editing.

A lot of the earlier photos were taken with a trusty Samsung S7 – but I upgraded to a Fairphone 4 about a year ago and I’ve been really really impressed with the camera.

I can adjust the colour balance quite finely with the camera app (Note I downloaded a different a new camera app, it’s not the standard google camera app!) and it really pays off with some of the flowers, particularly the blues.

Compare and contrast the standard colour and the one with adjustments in shutter speed, white balance and focus.

The blue Danube azalea – true colours

This is the Blue danube azalea, a newcomer this year. I wouldn’t call it blue exactly, but we will allow the growers some poetic licence perhaps, because I’ve seen the Danube many times, and that’s not blue either.

Blue danube default colours, the green is too light and the flowers, while pinkish are not that pink in real life..

Other things starting to come alive in the garden right now are this wild form Rhododendron with delightful leaves and thes beautiful white owners that open from a pink bud

Probably my favourite Rhododendron of all, polar bear. A silky rippling bloom and a mouth-water fragrance that soaks the whole garden on a tall tree. Just perfect.

12th May

Garden on a cool but sunny + still May morning. I’ve identified 8 different bird* species + seen at least 7 individual newts in the pond. Al

The newts were active during a warm spell in April but they disappeared during the cold start of May. I was worried they were dead. But now the males are in full glorious mating colours, the females more subdued and much more tricky to spot.

No toad spawn yet, though we heard a male making the mating call last night.
The azaleas are coming out, tulips just past their peak, marsh marigold in its prime.

Helen Moser coming into bloom
One of my favourite deciduous azaleas. Azalea luteum, beautiful colours and beautiful scent
This lavendula azalea has crowded out a smaller one but it’s now absolutely beautiful

One of the glories of the whole garden is our large Acer palmatum. It has thousands of tiny red flowers just before the leaves come out. At this time of year the delicate pale green leaves are so delightful against a blue sky with the sun shining through them. The flowers are gone but the seed heads will start to develop. We quite often get dozens of mini sycamore helicopters in autumn but none of them have germinated yet. I had always preferred the red or variagated varieties but this tree really changed my mind

Acer against the clear blue sky

The apple blossom is now at it’s peak too. Somehow it has not quite captured the imagination in the same way as the Japanese flowering cherry, but it absolutely deserves to.

This view reminded me slightly of van Gogh’s blossom painting, one of my favourites

2 years ago I planted up some native(ish) woodland undergrowth plants under the Acer to sort of mimic the tapestry of species you find in Scandinavian forests. We’re not quite there yet, but I was pleased to see how far my Solomon’s seal has come along. A plant I well remember from my childhood.

Solomon’s seal in the morning light

Underneath, the bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) have also spread and are looking really healthy now. In Danish these are called “lieutenant’s heart”, from the resemblance of the flowers at various stages to swords, champagne bottles and women – all a young lieutenant could desire apparently.

A year in the garden starting from now..

I notice that haven’t posted anything here since May five six years ago.

Goodness how the world has changed in that time. Brexit, Trump, Biden, CoVID19, Ukraine… And yet how little has actually changed in the garden. The birds still sing, the flowers bloom and the garden continues.

Gardening has lots to teach us about living.

The year should start in May, not January. A hopeful time of year with long light days and plants bursting with vitality. I spent an hour standing in the garden this morning watching the pond as the newts dipped up and dived back down, the birds* chirping away. I wandered around poking my nose in flowers appreciating the varied forms of the ferns, and noting the fading glory of the spring bulbs as the blossom on the fruit trees reaches its zenith.

How about a year in the garden on here?

Ready steady, go…

A leaf bud on the vine bursting through.

Birds identified with the help of birdnet, (now there’s a use for AI we can all get around), included this morning:

  • Wren
  • Blackcap
  • Tree creeper
  • Chiffchaff
  • Coal tit
  • Blue tit
  • Great tit
  • Jay
  • Blackbird
  • Sparrow
  • Pigeon
  • Brent geese (flying overhead)

Springing Forward

 

 

As the Spring has come back (and I realise I’ve hardly posted on here this year), our garden has once more blossomed once more into a lush gorgeous Eden, which I’m determined to enjoy as much as possible.

 

At the same time, work is even more hectic than it used to be, we’re short-staffed and over-committed. It’s too easy to try and race to catch up with myself all the time and I find that my time in the garden is increasingly limited. It’s frustrating that although I love gardening and find it relaxing, I am actually sometimese too anxious about work to put the time in to get on with it and it starts to become a source of yet more stress.

I have therefore decided to set myself a new challenge – a vase of flowers for my office every week for a year, but only cut from our own garden. It’s a way to bring something of the peace and tranquility into what is often a hectic environment and to observe and think about the seasons.

You might have noticed that I have often posted pictures of vases of flowers and talk about what goes into them in this blog. I love having flowers around the house but I’m usually unwilling to buy them. Partly because of cost but mainly because of the staggering environmental and social cost of producing and transporting cut flowers, most of them from lands a very long way away.

See for example this excerpt:

Costofcutflowers
Excerpt from this report on cut flowers

Given our lovely garden it shouldn’t be necessary to buy them in anyway, though winter might prove more of a challenge.

At this time of year though, I’m basically spoilt for choice in terms of cutting flowers but hopefully the requirement to get out and look around at least once a week will both inspire me to see the garden with new eyes each week and to educate – especially as I start to work out what different shrubs and flowers actually are and which will keep as cut flowers and which will not and also of course how to mix and arrange different blooms. It will hopefully also force me to keep posting – somethign I often struggle to fit in, even thoguh I like the contemplation that writing forces me to do.

I will post the pictures here and on instagram for your delight and inspiration as a moment of joy.

Starting this week with an easy classic, Convallaria majalis, the lily of the valley. It’s actually a native species too, and in the same family as asparagus.

2017-05-22 10.38.06

I’ve always loved the scent, it’s amazing to me that such unobtrusive flowers can fill a room, or a whole house with such a beautiful perfume. They look delicate but are really as tough as old boots, spreading with some vigour in conditions (dry shade under trees) that other plants find tough to thrive in.

*A word of warning though, all parts of the plant are poisonous. The leaves do have some superficial resemblance to edible wild garlic (ransoms) though they are generally darker + tougher and don’t have the same pungent garlic smell when crushed.*

The small flowers are often difficult to see in the garden so I feel I get much more joy from cutting a few and holding them up close to look at them carefully, while admiring that glorious perfume.

This little vase is now on my desk at work and filling the office with a heavy and heavenly scent.

2017-05-22 10.37.54

Other bigger and more exuberant flowers, I’d rather keep in the garden to admire from afar. The little white bells contrast so beautifully with the large deep green leaves too and I find them surprisingly long lasting in a vase.

So, perfume, beauty and long-lasting flowers, more or less the ideal first entry for my cut flower challenge.

See you next week…

 

Savouring apple season

It might seem strange, talking about apples in the depths of winter, but we have 4 different apple varieties in our garden, all but one competely unknown to me before we moved in here. Actually Denmark in general has an amazing variety of very good apples, just about all of which seem to be local varieties. They are all super quality and have interesting flavour.


This year was a bumper crop as you can maybe see above! These are from the three mature trees. The smaller one, discovery, had already been plundered by this point and also had the perfect, in my opinion, combination of sweet, juicy, crunchy and slightly tart. Most of the greenish-red apples are a variety called Philippa. Sadly these didnt last although we tried to store some so I have made litres of pureed apple and frozen it. Next year I may try and acquire an apple press for the juice.

The really large yellowy-green ones at the back were also good eaters but made fantastic cooking apples too. So much so that the kids are now very fed up of apple crumble and apple pie. Happily, apple clafoutis seems to still hit the spot!

Now in the depths of January we are on the small red ones. These are a classic Danish Christmas apple, called pigeon, and used to stuff duck or served with nuts and oranges as a Christmas snack. We never had many before and I hadn’t really bothered as they are small and a bit fiddly but this year we made an effort and my goodness they are delicious! A beatufil white flesh, blazing scarlet skin and again that beautiful crunchy, juicy, sweet, tart experience that all the best apples have.

I did not know how to keep them and we lost a box or two too early as they were too warm but the current storage seems to suit them.


They are going a little wrinkly now but are still crisp inside. These are definitely being added to my “Best of Denmark”list.

Another recent addition is my new cookbook. I have a few old reliables but almost never use them now thanks to the internet. However, on a recent celebratory visit to a bookshop, Meyers Salater (salads) caught my eye. Salads have always been something of a bete noire to me. I am pretty terrible at making them, but I like eating them. They are healthy but especially at this time of year with our seasonal vegetable box from Aarstiderne I am often at a loss.

Claus Meyer was at some point ubiquitous in Denmark and internationally famous as one of the founders of Noma. Now, having apparently tired of being a big fish in a small pond he has sold up and moved to New York where he appears to be surfing the Hygge trend.

However, his cafes, bakeries, delis and takeaway food remain and were and are pioneers in the “New Nordic Cuisine”, a riff on the seasonal and local trend here in Denmark. I once borrowed a book of recipes from Noma from the library and realised after a few short reads that even one would take me most of the day to prepare! However, Meyer’s recipe books seem to be a bit more manageabke, just about all my thiry-something Danish friends seem to have one, so I took the plunge and shelled out my 230kr (books are taxed at 25% in Denmark, like everything else, so they are expensive).

Now to the point of this digression in the middle of this post about apples… The Meyer’s salads book has become a huge favourite. I have made at least 8 different recipes out of it and they have all gone down pretty well with the family (maybe with the exception of the 4 year old), so tonight when I was working out what to make for dinner, and given our oversupply of seasonal vegetables I again took it down from the high shelf. I had planned to make a baked beetroot or perhaps red cabbage based salad but the cover image caught my eye and to my delight when I looked it up the recipe specifically called for pigeon apples.


Together with Jerusalem artichokes, thyme and parsley, two things we currently have in abundance, as well as oil salt and apple vinegar. The artichokes are scrubbed, sliced tossed in oil and roasted, the apples sliced and the whole mixed together, I skipped the shallots as I’m not a big fan of raw onions. What could be simpler?

Full recipe Here for those who can read danish:


And I couldn’t resist posting some pictures of the preparations, part of the joy of eating for me is the enjoyment of the look of the food, texture and the blending together. I’m particularly excited at having found another good recipe for Jerusalem artichokes which we often get at this time of year. My next challenge will be trying to replicate our local Sticks’n’sushi‘s awesome deep fried artichokes with truffle oil, an essential part of any vegetarian sushi experience.
These little apples are so very beautiful. Perfect little jewels and doubly tasty for having come from our own garden.


Long may the Apple season continue…